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Scottish postman loses accent discrimination tribunal

More than half (56%) of Royal Mail’s revenues for 2021/22 were made up of package deliveries
More than half (56%) of Royal Mail’s revenues for 2021/22 were made up of package deliveries

A Scottish postman was not racially discriminated against by an English colleague who repeatedly told him he couldn’t understand what he was saying, an employment tribunal has ruled.

The postman, Peter McCalam, brought a claim of racial discrimination against Royal Mail following a meeting with his manager, Alan Wiggs, because he had driven a delivery van into a homeowner's wall.

Read more: Can accent discrimination become a legal reality?

McCalam recorded the meeting and suggested Wiggs’ inability to understand him was due to racism.

However, Wiggs had suffered a stroke in 2016 meaning he struggled to process information.

The tribunal heard McCalam's speech "increased in pace" and he was "difficult to understand" when he became "volatile".

Therefore, the tribunal found that the reason his manager could not understand him was not his Scottish accent, but because McCalam talked too fast, and so his claim did not succeed.

Mark Kaye, senior associate at law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, said an accent is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

However, it could be linked to race, which is a protected characteristic.

Speaking to HR magazine, he added: “This does not mean that an employee or worker cannot bring a discrimination claim based on issues arising out of their accent. However, this would be more likely if the accent can be connected to a person’s race.

“A claim based on a regional accent would, however, be far more difficult to bring.”

Read more: Non-native accents: An unacknowledged workplace stigma?

Kaye said HR should work on diversity and inclusion to eliminate accent discrimination in the workforce to ensure all employees feel comfortable and safe.

He said: “Given that there are no obvious legal remedies for employees, the onus is very much on employers to actively recruit staff from across regions in order to create a diverse workforce in which such regional accents become the fabric of the organisation.

“Organisations can also include the issue of regional accent bias in their diversity and inclusivity training programmes in order to raise the profile of the issue and promote greater awareness.”